Sunday, November 20, 2011

Strange Fire

Have you ever heard the term “Strange Fire?” Very often it is used to describe bizarre manifestations seen in the church, which seem to be more flesh than spirit. The term “strange fire” comes from Leviticus, Chapter 10.

Author Lee Grady addressed this in 2009 when he wrote an article titled “Strange Fire in the House of the Lord.” He characterized then-currrent fads involving angels, ecstatic worship, and necromancy as “strange fire.” I believe that almost three years later, things have gotten worse, not better. Says Grady:

No one fully understands what Nadab and Abihu did to prompt God to strike them dead in the sanctuary of Israel. The Bible says they loaded their firepans with incense, ignited the substance and "offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them" (Lev. 10:1, NASB). As a result of their careless and irreverent behavior, fire came from God's presence and consumed them.

Zap. In an instant they were ashes.

And so “Strange fire” is used to describe odd and unusual forms of worship which are not prescribed in the bible. Sometimes in Pentecostal circles, you will hear it called “wildfire” as people joke that they would “rather have a little wildfire than no fire.” But is it a joking matter?

Let's turn to Leviticus and read the story in Chapter 10. Before we look at that, you should note the context – Chapter 9 lays out God's order for Tabernacle worship –concerning the sacrifices on the altar. Moses gives these instructions to Aaron and his sons, with this admonition: “This is what the Lord has commanded you to do..”

In Chapter 10, starting at verse 1, we read:

Then Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his fire pan and put fire in it, set incense on it, and presented strange fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them to do. So fire went out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them so that they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke: ‘Among the ones close to me I will show myself holy, and in the presence of all the people I will be honored.’” So Aaron kept silent.

The expression “strange fire” used here in several translations is rendered “profane fire ” in the New King James and “unauthorized fire”; in the NIV and has been interpreted numerous ways. According to the NET bible, “the infraction may have involved any of the following or a combination thereof: (1) using coals from someplace other than the burnt offering altar (i.e., “unauthorized coals”), using the wrong kind of incense (cf. the Exodus 30:9 regulation against “strange incense”), (3) performing an incense offering at an unprescribed time or (4) entering the Holy of Holies at an inappropriate time(Lev 16:1-2).”

As Grady says, No one fully understands what Nadab and Abihu did to prompt God to strike them dead. I believe the term “profane fire” may give us some understanding. Contrary to common usage, “profane” does not mean cussing. It means, according to Webster, to “violate anything sacred, or treat it with abuse, irreverence...or contempt.” A simple definition is “to make ordinary that which is Holy.”

Recently someone in the “signs and wonders movement” suggested that the sin of Nadab and Abihu was that they offered up the fire in the tradition of the past. That statement turns orthodoxy in its head, which has always claimed that strange fire is turning away from God's established prescriptions. Jude 1:3 tells us to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints. So there certainly can be good religious tradition. Bear in mind that I'm certainly not defending dead religious tradition, I'm just saying that dead religious tradition is not, in itself, “strange fire.”

Let's focus back on verse 1 again. After God delivered precise instructions about the tabernacle worship- specifically the burnt offerings, and those offerings were made on the altar- which the fire consumed, we read “Then Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu...” “Then,” from the original Hebrew, tells us that this happened on the day of the inauguration day of tabernacle worship, right after the fire consumed the offerings on the altar. Remember the chapter divisions in the bible are artificial. It doesn't really matter what the strange fire was, the problem was that they presented strange fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them to do.

In other words, God told them what to do, Nadab and Abihu thought they knew better. At the root of strange fire you will always find presumption.

I could list a volume of things we see today in churches that are increasing in influence that God never told us to do. 2 Corinthians 4:2 tells us of those who handle the Word of God deceitfully, and I believe that this is a bigger problem today than in Paul's time. Scripture no longer means what it says, it is redefined by what God told a contemporary prophet, or through dreams and visions. And most of these folks doing things that God never told us to do, like Uzzah - who tried to steady the ark, have the best intentions, but are just plain wrong.

Let us not operate with our own ideas of how to do things. God has given us very detailed instructions, and more than any thing else, we need to honor those instructions with our obedience. It sounds spiritual to say that God is "doing a new thing" – we need to make sure that the "new thing" is not birthed in the flesh, as the good intentions and the good ideas of man will always lead to ruin.

Mike Bickle, a major leader in the apostolic and prophetic movement recently stated:

I will allow the fake in the room because I so believe in the genuine. I've had students (say) “Some of this seems fake” I go “It is... most of it's fake.” Most places that I've been, the majority of the manifestations are not caused by the holy spirit... but the problem is, it's not all fake. I will allow a whole lot of hamburger helper to allow the genuine take place.

By “hamburger helper” he means “the flesh.” It was at his meetings, when “revival” broke out recently, that the so-called “drunk in the spirit” manifestation became full blown in Kansas City.

While the trend today is to make church all about "signs and wonders," to seek after the “anointing” as if it were a play toy, and the battle cry is “bless me Lord,” we need to cultivate a reverence and fear of the Holy One . That is the faith that was once delivered to the saints.

I'll close with this from Leonard Ravenhill:

There’s an old hymn that says, "God’s presence and His very self, an essence all divine". I’ll ask you again, I’ve asked you before, When did you last go out of the sanctuary on tiptoe because God had revealed His holiness and His majesty?

Ravenhill is teaching out of 2 Samuel 6, when they retrieved the ark. He goes on to say:

Notice in verse five now. David and all the house of Israel played before the Lord in all instruments made of fir wood, harps, and psalteries, and timbrels, and cornets, and on cymbals. Now there’s his ecstasy! Now come down to verse nine.(After Uzzah was struck down. -ed.) This same David was afraid of the Lord that day. He said, "How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?" That’s a big switch! He’s excited they’re having the band music and having a whale of a time, and then suddenly God intervenes. And suddenly his whole emotional life does a somersault. He realizes what an awful God he serves. What a God of majesty! What a God of glory!


  1. Isaiah 50;10-11 also addresses this very well:

    ' Who among you fears the lord and obeys the voice of his servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.'

    'Behold, all of you who kindle a fire, who equip yourself with burning torches! Walk by the light of your fire and by the torches you have kindled!'

    'This you have from My hand : you shall lie down in torment.'

    That's sure enough warning for me.

  2. I listened to an excellent sermon by Art Katz on this.

    In this passage, it's the presumption of Nadab and Abihu to stand before the Lord.
    Keep in mind all the people had just seen the glory of the Lord (Leviticus 9:23).

    In this context Nadab and Abihu were trying to recreate that same glory of the Lord before the people. I would not be surprised if they were after that same glory that they had witnessed. The presumption that they might recreate the act.

    I don't believe it accurate that they were consumed for following in tradition. It is obvious that they had just participated in offering up a sacrifice under Moses and Aaron (Leviticus 9:1). They wanted to go and stand before the Lord themselves and assumed they knew how it worked since they had just participated.
    They were chasing glory.

    So the question then is: are you chasing glory or seeking to honor the Lord? Verse three goes on to what Moses speaks to Aaron, "This is what the LORD spoke of when he said:
    “‘Among those who approach me
    I will be proved holy;
    in the sight of all the people
    I will be honored.’"

    By the sons of Aaron failing to honor the Lord, He proved himself holy and consumed them because they were unclean. In their presumption they were unclean.

    Even further down there is some reference alcohol (10 verse 9). Could it be that Nadab and Abihu were drunk?

  3. Sounds like Katz also focused in on presumption. I had forgotton about that sermon; may have to listen to that today.

    Although Katz and I depart in certain understandings (eschatology and also his impression of Bob Jones, for instance) I often wonder where he would stand on certain aspects of the charismatic church today.

  4. Sadly, Art Katz also promoted Bill Britton, a blatant Latter Rain proponent, as he wrote the Foreword to Britton's biography (by his son) Prophet on Wheels. Here's a portion:

    "...The clarity of [Britton's] writing matched the simplicity of his lifestyle to open for many of us a first view of the heavenly purposes of God through the Church which is His Body. The concepts of sonship, of Jesus as the Pattern Son, of corporateness, of Eagle Saints have found their indelible mark in the consciousness and walking-out of our generation through the pen of this anointed scribe, this (as I referred to him at the gravesite service) 'Watchman Nee of the Ozarks'!"

    Britton, like Jones, taught the manifested sons of God doctrine teaching that certain overcomers would attain their glorified bodies [1 Cor. 15:42-54] while remaining on earth.

  5. "There is such a thing as false life. There is a vast difference between spiritually eternal life and soul life, and that thing is the master stroke of Satan. There is a vast amount of false fire in this world today and looks like true life, true fire, what is of God, but there is a lie in it, the fruit of that tree is bitter life in the end."

    T. Austin Sparks (1970)

  6. I would like to note the date on that book as 1988. As well as that people change and grow.
    While I definitely can't speak for Katz himself, I have listened quite extensively to his sermons.

    I don't believe he would be in support of much of the modern charismatic movement. He wasn't one to play games or to consider recreational use of the Holy Spirit as the proper thing, but rather to build up the body.

    I've found that most of his teaching after 1990 to be different. The best way I can say it is there is a maturity in his messages that doesn't exist in his earlier teaching.

    Anyway, I'm not trying to definitively defend Katz, but to point out that I have found much encouraging truth in his teaching.

    I did have a friend briefly correspond with him some years ago about IHOP, before he passed. If I'm remembering correctly he said something about it being encouraging as far as seeking to pray continually. That's all that I can remember, and yes that is slightly second hand information.

    I do agree with that last quote from Sparks. We have to be careful of mixture. That is one reason I am so hesitant when it comes to IHOP. I feel there is mixture there and I will not allow myself to freely accept what they teach and promote.

  7. W,

    I can appreciate what you stated re: Katz. However, unless he publically repudiated Britton's teachings, then I'd say his endorsement stands as it was not just a passing comment but an explicit endorsement in literature that is still available.

    I'll quote from Derek Prince's statement of July 9, 1990 on the errors of Kansas City Fellowship/Mike Bickle regarding correcting false teachings (leaving out verbiage not specifically applicable to this case):

    Any effective remedy would require open confession and renunciation of the errors...All this should be communicated as widely as the errors have been circulated.

    In my view, anything short of this standard is unacceptable. It is not just for the sake of anyone who was under the late Katz' influence; it would've been for his benefit as well keeping James 3:1 in mind.

  8. In reference to Nadab & Abihu: Notice what God commanded: from various translations (various translations can help to spread more light on the meaning, "By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy, and before all the people I will be glorified." Pardon translational differences. One vital lesson we may easily overlook in trying to figure out the profane fire, is God's command afterward.
    As we try to approach HIM, we must hold HIM as Holy. Holy means the exact opposite as the word profane. Utterly un-worldly! We must hold Him up in the fear of God. Something almost too holy to speak of because there is so little of it in so many areas of western Christianity. The second: "And before all the people I must be glorified". Consistent with Isaiah 42:8, He must have ALL the glory. He will not share the glory with any preacher or author or "televangelist". NO...God must have ALL the glory.
    So if we put these two together, and DO it, it will get us started on the way back to what HE desires.
    The closer you seek to be to God, the more strongly this command must ring in your ears. --L

  9. I have found some help in wading through the messes is to use certain saints as general guideposts. Some I use: Ravenhill, Wilkerson, Tozer, T. Austin-Sparks, and Art Katz to some extent. But sometimes I gain in specific areas from others not so well respected, such as Judy Franklin and Gary Oates. Could other people here more versed in authors than I, give us others as suggested guides in the quicksand?
    Thanks! --L

  10. Craig,

    I'm not defending some of Katz' teachings, but I will say that in his sermon on "strange fire" he handled the topic well, and the charismatic church could learn a lot from him. It is on Sermonindex.

    As with Luther and his anti-semitism, some of Katz' teachings probably are best discarded. So just put an asteric by his name and
    hear what he has to say. It may be the best sermon on strange fire - aimed at a charsimatic audience - ever.

  11. Sorry Bill; I didn’t mean to derail the thread.

    Going to Bickle’s statement – he sure has a high tolerance for the ‘fake’. With his belief in and promotion of the gifts of the Spirit, He, like all in hyper-charismaticism, fails to adequately promote the gift of discernment. That’s not to mention Bickle lacks proper stewardship. If he really thinks most are acting in the flesh, then he should explicitly mention this to warn those who are indeed profaning. And, to assume it’s all ‘of the flesh’ is a dangerous assumption keeping in mind that Jesus said there will be tares among the wheat [Matthew 13:24-30].

  12. I knew Art personally, and I can say that he would not, especially since the late 80's/early 90's, have been in favor of Latter Rain/MSOG/Kingdom Now teachings.

    Not only that, but the story of Bob Jones where Art considered him to be a prophet was from the early 80's. It was in reference to a dream that Art had had the previous night, that Bob both described to him and interpreted. He was awed by this among other events in those days, but his view of the main leaders in the prophetic movement changed in the years that followed.

    When the modern prophetic movement really grew in popularity (in the late 80's and 90's), so grew his contention with what he saw developing. While he would rarely accuse men by name, and though he did it with humility, he often spoke against what men were calling prophetic. He acknowledged that some within the movement may have indeed experienced the 'gift of prophecy', but he did not receive the men being called prophets as prophets in the foundational sense- including Bob Jones. Again, this particularly applies to his views from the late 80's and onward.

    He had serious concerns for the charismatic church, and felt that modern definitions of "apostolic" and "prophetic" were gross caricatures of the true thing represented in Scripture.

  13. That being said, he did have a real appreciation for the International House of Prayer while visiting on a few occasions, and commended the students and teachers at the IHOP school for what he perceived to be a unique love for the Scriptures among those within Pentecostal/Charismatic circles.

  14. Apparently, when Katz visited, they all became Bereans for a moment.

    Not convinced that is the case today.

  15. There are many "Bereans" at the International House of Prayer. I'm in fellowship with a good number of them. I can testify, at least for the one's that are friends of mine, that they are more jealous for the Scriptures than the majority of saints I've known over the years.

  16. That's good to hear. I suppose that some of them take issue with Mike's over-allegorization of the Song of Songs then. Perhaps correction can be made.

    You might want to point them to the Blueprint Prophecy, which I'm sure they are familiar with, because thoughtful Bereans should be asking questions about that as well.

    BTW, I thought the radio show Tuesday was good timing, since I had written about the New Mystics on Monday. Your thoughts on that are welcome.

  17. While sitting under Mike Bickle's teaching for a number of years, I was impressed by his exhaustive knowledge of the scriptures. Also, his teaching was 'not like those of the Scribes and Pharasees as he teaches with authority.' I know this references Jesus, yet Mike, as well, does not lack gravitas in his delivery.

    To his credit, he encourages his listeners to 'don't take my word for it, search the scriptures and see if what I say is true.'

    So I did. Bottom line: the scriptures, read in context, without Mike's spin on them, do not say what Mike says that they say.

    And Mike has provided an excellent example of the liberties he takes with the scriptures in his newly published study guide for the Book of Revelations. What he (Mike) says that they say is truly how Mike reads them to mean, and how he teaches them.

    I still, to this day, find myself reading the Bible and recalling what "Mike says" as though he is some authority. He is a mere man, with a set of beliefs that he finds support for reading the Bible a certain way. Perhaps that is too severe a take on him, but that's how I see it.

    I hope Bryan's Berean friends are true Berean's who allow the scriptures to define the scriptures, and allow the Holy Spirit be be the Teacher He is meant to be.


    P.S. What I have described regarding Mike can be said of many other teachers as well, and our eagerness to be spoon fed the scriptures. And I am not above falling into this pattern again.

    I love this scripture: James 1:21 - So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

  18. I believe one of the truly great disservices Mike Bickle has done to the church has been to attempt the allegorical application of the Song of Solomon verse by verse. By what authority does anyone take O.T. scriptures and decide how it can be interpreted in reference to the contemporary life? Does any N.T. writer ever quote from the Song of Solomom. Do we find any explicit authority to take an O.T. erotic love poem and apply it line by line in to the devotional life of the N.T. believer? I think not. It sets up a devotional life that is overly sentimental, overly emotional and highly troublesome for men. I'm sorry, but no matter how hard I try I don't want to think of Jesus as my husband. I understand the metaphor of the Church as Christ's bride as a perfectly wonderful way to conceptualize covenant faithfulness, not as a unrealistic paradigm for personal intimacy.

  19. To add to News from Brazil:

    I read a web site once that explained two things: (it was a Jewish religious site)

    1) They them selves looked at it as the relationship between Israel (nation) and God.

    2) The book was considered so minor that it was only read 1 time a year in a synagogue

    And then I have a friend who teaches at a college who states that more and more of those who study Hebrew scripture considred this more of a play

  20. Dear William and Craig,

    Re: Art Katz's sermon, "Strange Fire"

    You may listen or download it from (Strange Fire I). I have not yet listened to it.

  21. Why do you quote Derrick Prince? He was of the Charismatic tongue movement which is un-Biblical!

  22. Yes, Derek Prince, Art Katz, Lenoard Ravenhill, Lee Grady and myself are all "toungue speakers."
    This issue is not cessationism, and many Godly people do not believe that scriptures teach that tongues ceases when the last Word of the bible was penned. I think a strong case that the "perfect" has not yet come can be made from the scriptures, as long as that verse is not ripped out of context.

    I'm Pentecostal, but am alarmed with the excesses of the hyper-charismatic. I'm not unbiblical.

    My testimony here:

  23. The phrase "which he did not command them" is a Hebraism. A meiosis that declares a negative to affirm a positive. In other words, the phrase should be understood as the NIV renders it "contrary to what he had commanded them".

    God bless,


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